Wednesday, 2 January 2019

2018, another year, more water under the bridge

So, we meet again here for my own personal summation of 2018's food adventures.
It's been another year choc full of eating (and cooking) fine food. Another year of observing the Hobart restaurant scene, now from slightly further away as I slowly tire of the same old, same old occurring around town, and hold my tongue in the fruitless obvious criticisms I formerly would have written passionately about here on this blog.

Nothing really has changed with food standards. You know the sort of food you like to eat, and you should make it your business to know the chefs who cook it 'your' way, so that you can follow them round to their next (inevitable) workplace.

We've had a plethora of new places opening up this year. Way too many for my brain to remember. Some average, some woeful and some fabulous. My greatest joy has been seeing the old Ivory close down after 6 years of making great Thai food, renovating and adding an upper floor to their Elizabeth Street venue, then reopening after 6-odd months with a new name (Still Thai) but same owners and menu. Obviously I'm totally biased as my favourite food is Asian, particularly Thai.

I've checked out this years Taste of Tas four times over the last four days and have enjoyed the vibe and some of the offerings there. Thank god HCC have seen how ridiculous they were a few years ago when they nearly managed to absolutely write the event off (in the eyes of the locals, anyway).
(*TIP if the food is already made up and sitting there conveniently in the bain marie waiting for you to come along and order it, ask them to make you up a new batch.) Waji's crumbed calamari with palm sugar dressing should have been fabulous, but my serving was from the bain, and hence not beautifully crunchy and fabulous as I'd anticipated, but lukewarm with damp crumbs. However my nam tok (Thai beef salad) from Vanidols SoHo has been made to order each of the four times I've had it, and absolutely stunning. Well worth the $13 it cost, and the reason I've been to Taste four times this week, and intend returning for another serving today.

Had our annual Christmas dinner at Landscape this year. It was OK but the service tailed off over the course of the evening (having started out as absolutely faultless at the beginning of the night), to the end of the evening when, after ordering one of every single dish on the whole menu, and sparing no expense with wine, cocktails and alcohol generally, we weren't offered coffee. We would have had post-cheeseboard tipples too had they been offered but we were over it by then, so left. The restaurant itself is perfect for my friends and I, with all of us desiring: comfortable chairs (their chairs are the most comfortable restaurant chairs in Hobart), low volumed background music, good service, reliable decent food that caters to every dietary constraint, and easy parking nearby. Apart from the service dwindling off, we got pretty well everything else OK.

I ate a great meal last year at Stefano Lubiana's Osteria, and had vowed to return some time this year, which I did, to find new kitchen and waitstaff, both of which let me down in comparison to last year. So sad about that.

Frogmore has disappointingly proven the same as Lubiana's at both their venues, in my opinion. The Frogmore Lounge (in the city) menu is the most astounding version of the Emperors New Clothes I've ever seen. Put frankly, it is embarrassingly elementary, PFD-style food requiring little or no culinary skills or knowledge at all. Frogmore Cambridge is trying harder to maintain their previously high standards but they too are failing. These places have been my standout venues for when I just wanted to go out, relax and get fed wonderful food that I didn't need to question the provenance of. It pains me hugely to say it, but I've rarely been one to withhold the truth as I see it. Both are stunning visual venues, but for someone going there for only the food, I've been sorely disappointed.

Thank god Aloft on Brooke St Pier is still trading, with the food being of the highest standard, and the service ditto. They started doing Sunday breakfasts a few months ago, but have stopped those now. A hard ask for the staff to schlep back into work and do a Sunday brekky after their busy Saturday nights, but I hope they bring them back later because you simply couldn't fault the food.

Kraken fish and chips opened a few months back in Elizabeth St, North Hobart (where the old Fish Bar used to be), and is a place I haven't yet managed to get to but can't wait to try chef/owner Toby Cannon's f&c as everyone whose food opinions I trust have raved about the food there.

Suminato, in King St, Sandy Bay, has proven a firm winner amongst our loyal group of passionate regular eater-outers (laughingly named the Tossers). We've found excellent value and top flavour in selecting their Chef's Banquet for the small price of $58 per person, and I defy anyone to walk out of there and still need to go to McDonalds to top up. For your $58, you get: miso, sashimi salmon, beef tatami, chicken karaage, tofu seaweed salad, ebi mayo, zucchini skewers (sound boring but OMG delicious!), charcoal grilled lamb cutlets (the best in town, even better than Filoxenia's greek lamb chops), sushi roll and chef's dessert. You simply can't go wrong there with value for money and excellent food.

Tried Kin Japanese in Macquarie St when they first opened. They've had a few stops and starts with opening, then closing down. then reopening, then closing down again, but all seems sorted now. I think that fact plus the fact they're so small could be a reason they now need to generate so much social media activity, as I think you need to constantly be in people's faces to remind them of your presence in the world of choice of food sources in Hobart. Whilst we enjoyed our meal there (we ordered one of everything on the menu that day), it didn't knock our socks off.

Kobe, in Harrington St (just up from the Shamrock Hotel), is head and shoulders our best go-to for a Japanese food hit. A quiet, unassuming restaurant, they are open from 11.30am onwards, so if you're someone like me whose tummy operates a timetable all of its own, it's handy to know there is somewhere other than fast food chains where you can pop in any time and get a meal. They have the best and most comprehensive selection of ramen dishes, and many others, but not sushi. They also have the most uncomfortable chairs in town so you'll find it hard to even stay long enough for a bowl of yummy black sesame ice-cream! I take my own cushion when I go there.

My good friend Steve Cumper (ex Red Velvet Lounge at Cygnet, Peppermint Bay, Mona, Smolt Kitchen etc) is now heading up the kitchen at Fern Tree Tavern and the food is looking fabulous there. Steve is, for me, one of those chefs that I'm a groupie for, so I admit I tend to follow Steve and his food round to wherever he is currently working. For my sweet tooth, I feel he excels at sweet cooking, and reckon he gives the CWA ladies good competition for their traditional sponge cake cookery.

Seoul Korean Restaurant in Moonah also proved popular with us earlier in the year. The table cooking is a novel but fun way to eat out in a group, unless you've got a guts with you who complains they need more food and hoovers everything off the table grill before anyone else gets a chance to try it!

A fabulous meal was had at Bangor Vineyard Shed at Dunalley in April. So much top class fresh Tassie seafood dishes on their menu, and wonderful grazing platters. A perfect place to take visitors to our fair city for that country drive with excellent food thrown in.

Uber Eats commenced in Hobart in 2018 too, and appears to be becoming slowly more popular with the 'can't be f*cked' set amongst us. Personally I can't bear to spend an additional $8 onto the cost of my takeaway food to pay someone to deliver it to me, but that's exactly not who this app was designed for! My youngest daughter is a regular uber eats user and swears by it.

So, to sum up 2018, another interesting food year. More of the same, but I still search for the ultimate great food and service. I wish you a fabulous 2019.

Pictured above: unquestionably the best pho in Tassie from Phuong's in Electrona

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Sunday, 31 December 2017

Yep....2017 is racing to finish

A sure sign of ageing is perceiving the years absolutely flying past so fast it seems impossible to keep track of the days, so you eventually give up, and are aware it's November but not what the actual date is. It's only when you miss a significant other's birthday, not because you love them any less, or that you weren't aware their birthday every year is on 20th November, but because you simply didn't know what the date was.

Anyway, here we find ourselves in December 2017, and what a year it's been for hospitality in Hobart.

So much has altered in the dining and drinking scene here that it's a totally different place to the Hobart hospitality scene we experienced in January.

I think we're at a really excellent place now, with an industry that caters to every single person, whether they be the poorest and most desperate couple with absolutely not one taste bud to share between two of them to discriminate between whether they prefer Maccas, HJ's or KFC, or the biggest food connoisseur in Hobart whose local is Fico, Franklin, Templo or Aloft.

I've enjoyed some most fabulous and high class offerings at different restaurants throughout the year. I've also suffered through some shockers, thinking to myself at the time "What the very f*ck am I paying good money for here?"

Standouts, according to my ever-failing memory (so they must have been damned good for me to remember!) include Filoxenia (Greek, in Elizabeth St, North Hobart), The Lounge at Frogmore in the city, and Agrarian Kitchen at New Norfolk. Also loved Born in Brunswick in NoHo, Kobe (Japanese) in Harrington St, Stone & Barrow (the former Richmond Wine Centre amongst other previous names) in Richmond, Aloft, Salty Dog pub in Kingston, Ettie's (Elizabeth St) and finally Landscape (in the Henry Jones hotel) for some top class professional food and service. In fact if anyone asks me which my most favourite restaurant is, I usually reply that it's Landscape (if money is no object, otherwise I usually recommend Kobe, if they like Japanese).

It may be my age and cynicism but I have also come across a few places where the hype I've heard prior to eating there (and since) has most definitely, for me, not been lived up to, and my experience has indeed proved to be a 'wtf' moment. For the life of me, not wanting to be uncharitable, but.....I'm yet to find the charm or enjoyment from quite a few dishes of the many I've tried at Bar Wa Izakaya. There are two other venues that I enjoyed the first time I ate there, but subsequent visits let me down badly. Brother Mine is one that I'd add to that category, and Suzie Luck's (the rebranded and revamped ex Smolt in Salamanca). Once again, I repeat that is just one person's opinion and summation of a few dining experiences at those three particular venues.

So, well done hospitality in Hobart for 2017. Here's to more of the same in 2018.

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Tuesday, 20 December 2016

2016. What a year this has been.....

As I have been using my Facebook Rita's Bite page, as well as the Tasmanian Food Establishments page, all year for posting my random thoughts and reviews of restaurants and food, I feel this original Rita's Bite blog has become somewhat superfluous. But re-reading many of the older posts still provides me with so much pleasure, amusement and reminiscing that I will never delete it, so here we are.....just summing up the year 2016.

It has been a big year for hospitality. So many new places have opened up, but also many have found the going extremely tough, and either sold or closed down (for instance, Ethos). Many businesses are just treading water, hoping and praying that this coming summer season will earn them enough to tide them through the very long, lean winter period ahead. I probably should also make note of the huge number of food vans that have magically appeared all over the city. A brilliant concept, and one I hope continues for eternity.

This is a huge generalisation, but I find the baton has been passed down to the new generation of up and coming drinkers, with so many venues opening which feature boutique alcohol of some kind (cider, beer, gin, whiskey, cocktails) with accompanying tapas style food or pizza to soak up the liquid of choice.

That's not a judgment. It's merely interesting to me that the focus now seems to be more on the drinking aspect of a meal out, with the food as an added bonus. The meal styles have veered away from the old silver service, heavy cream-based sauces and kow-towing waiter style of haute cuisine for that special meal out, to a more light hearted nibbles, ribs, BBQ everything and drinkies type of evening out.

As was predicted over 10 years ago, not least by this experienced and hardened clairvoyant (!!), we are now in the grip of a severe and urgent lack/dearth of experienced, keen and enthusiastic hospitality workers of all denominations (chefs, kitchen hands, apprentices, waitstaff etc) with staying power, right across the state. Derrrr! Don't get me started on this subject! The effects of shoddy, slapdash employment practices and (lack of) staff training are evident almost every day, and I have gone way past banging my head on the wall in frustration about the shortsightedness of all involved in the administration of the local hospitality industry.

As for dining out, I've enjoyed some amazingly stunning food this year, and equally had some of the most disgusting food ever as well. Right up there, for absolute gastronomic pleasure, I'd have to nominate Phuong's Vietnamese at Electrona for simple, cheap, honest, straightforward Vietnamese food (particularly pho) cooked extremely well; Pearl & Co (in the Mures complex) for that special meal cooked with love and attention to all the finer details of great food; Miss Jane (the former Flathead restaurant in South Hobart) for a more casual but excellent standard of food; Saigon Express in Elizabeth St, North Hobart for great Asian food; Frogmore at Cambridge - it naturally goes without saying that chef Ruben Koopman is right up there for precision work, perfection and creativity in the kitchen; Aloft on Brooke St Pier is my go-to for that top food and service experience you want to have every time you go out to eat; Smolt Kitchen has proven my downfall financially, as their weekly changing $55 "all you can eat" specials menu arrives every Tuesday in my email Inbox, and I vow to ignore my desire to go there and devour magnificent food, and proceed to do the exact opposite!

Then there's my old favourite for the past 25 years, Le Provencal. All the things I've said many times over the years on this blog about the good old peppered steak there still holds true for me. It was reinforced last week again. Yes it's a French restaurant, and yes, the menu reads "Filet de boeuf grille" in true French fashion, but translated into boring old English, it's still the world's best peppered steak, salad and chips, and excellent value for $39.

As I've aged, and got more soured by a lifetime of bad service experiences, I have found myself being that rude customer you always detested coming into your workplace. I'm OK with that. I've always been Ms Polite Person, don't upset anyone, be tactful in your implied criticism. No longer. I'm Ms "Did you just ask if we enjoyed the meal? Well, since you ask, actually, no we didn't.....x,y & z were wrong with it". So, restaurants be warned. I'm not sugar coating it any longer. As my daughter says, "Shit's about to get real"!

Have a fabulous Christmas and New Year. Eat, drink, make merry, play fair, be safe, spend lots of money dining out to help boost our local economy. I have done MY bit, so I need you to do yours.
Happy eating in 2017.

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Sunday, 27 December 2015


It's been a while since I last wrote here on my blog. For that, I sincerely apologise.

2015 has been a very interesting year on the restaurant scene in Hobart and surrounds, the most noteworthy being the number and calibre of higher end places opening up, thus adding to the choices of general dining out experiences, and providing us with even higher expectations.

The Sunday drive destinations are varied and classy, no matter which direction you decide to drive in. Bangor at Dunalley, Coal Valley Farm and Frogmore at Richmond, Stefano Lubiana's winery/restaurant at Granton, Villa Howden at Howden, and the newly reopened (following last year's disastrous fire) Red Velvet Lounge at Cygnet to name but a few.

Noteworthy new arrivals on the scene are my two current favourites: The Glass House, and Aloft, both on Brooke St Pier. Two others are on my radar but as I like to draw out the excitement of trying new places, am leaving them to try till early 2016. Those are Templo, on the site of the former Chulo in Patrick St, and Urban Greek, which is on the site of the former Garagistes. Both have had rave reviews from people whose judgements I trust implicitly.

The preponderance of food vans and trucks has also been a breath of fresh air for a city that was crying out for something different in the way of additional choices such as are available on the mainland.

Burgers have become the 'thing', with The Standard in Liverpool Street being my go-to burger place.

A few other little gems I have discovered or re-discovered this year include Vanidols in South Hobart (or Soho, for short, to differentiate it from the North Hobart Vanidols, which is owned and run by totally different people, and has no affiliation at all to the Soho Vanidols) and ties with Saigon Express in Claremont as having, in my opinion, the best Thai beef salad in town, Salamanca Inn for the stunning $12.50 daily lunch special, Phuongs Vietnamese in Electrona (past Margate) for the best beef pho ($12 a bowl! best and tastiest bargain ever!), Ganges in Argyle St for the best naan and beef curries, Melt on Warwick for the best crepes and other goodies, then my most consistent favorite Three Japanese which has relocated from its original site in Elizabeth Street to Waterloo Crescent, Battery Point (the old Mummy's Coffee Shop) and is now serving fabulous breakfasts (both Japanese and Australian), as well as lunch and dinner.

Pho at Phuongs

I hope you give at least a few of these wonderful places and dishes a try in the coming year.

I wish you all a very happy Christmas and New Year, and trust that 2016 brings copious amounts of fine food, wine and great meals to you.

Posted on by Rita